TRAVEL: THE LOST 40: Daytrippin’ from DuluthThe Lost 40, 144 acres of protected land, escaped the logger’s ax back in the late 1800s and the decades ahead because of a mistake by land surveyors.
By: Story and Photography by June Kallestad, Living North Magazine
It is easy to feel small in The Lost 40. The red and white pines in this virgin forest are natural monuments that two adults can scarcely link arms around. Here in the northland, we’re more used to the comparatively scrawny plantation pines.
You walk into The Lost 40 and suddenly you’re much smaller than before you entered. Even the rotting ancestors of trees still standing are massive trunks that will take their dear, sweet time returning to the earth as fertilized soil for the young sprouts yet to come. This is the uncut forest of the Agassiz Lowlands in the Chippewa National Forest near Grand Rapids.
The Lost 40, 144 acres of protected land, escaped the logger’s ax back in the late 1800s and the decades ahead because of a mistake by land surveyors. A visit to this unique northland experience is just a couple of hours from Duluth, and along the way you can enjoy the scenic rollercoaster that is State Hwy. 38. [See “How To Get There”]
These towering sentinel trees, some 300 to 400 years old, stood watch as the rich forests that once covered northern Minnesota fell. Wood drove progress back then, and these trees made prospectors lust for the state’s wood resources. Soon after Minnesota achieved statehood in 1858, survey crews were sent to document the bounty. But in 1882, surveyor Josiah A. King and his three-man crew mistakenly plotted Coddington Lake about a half mile further northwest than it should have been. The loggers, dependent on that survey, thought the area was underwater and went after other trees.
Thank you, Mr. King.
Today, visitors to this designated Scientific and Natural Area get a glimpse of an old growth, natural cycle forest like few others in the state. It holds 28 acres of red and white pine forest and 18 acres of spruce-fir forest. The U.S. Forest Service is charged with managing adjacent old growth red and white pine, as well. Plant lovers can enjoy fringed plygala, bluebead lily, twin flower and Canada mayflower. Bird lovers can seek out 90 recorded species of warblers, plus thrushes, sparrows, flycatchers and bald eagles.
The trail is a short two-mile hike that children can enjoy, though it’s hard to impart the significance of an old growth forest like this that represents less than two percent of Minnesota’s forested lands. Adults, however, can marvel at how these lands evolved over millennia with the slow biological and ecological cycles of growth and decay until
humans learned to carve livelihoods from them.
“It’s amazing to walk into a forest today and know that it looked much the same 100, even 200, years ago,” said recent park visitor Rob Chaffee of Mounds View, Minn. “I didn’t fully understand how much people have changed the natural landscape in Minnesota.”
Some areas of the forest are still managed for paper pulp, lumber, wildlife and aesthetics. Those managed trees are harvested at about 80 to 150 years. But in the protected areas, pine can live up to 500 years. Aspen in this forest can grow to as old as 85 years. Many species of woodpeckers seeking old wood have found a home here. A side path on the trail takes visitors to Moose Brook, one of the few places in Minnesota with a wetlands area unchanged from 100 years ago.
Our nation was built — and largely heated — with wood, but by 1900 Minnesota was already running out of pine timber without concern for how fast the trees were being cut. The common adage “After the axe follows the plow” conveyed the hope that, with the trees gone, farmers would readily replace loggers. But Northern Minnesota’s short growing season and poor soils curtailed that vision and the idea of sustainable forest management practices began to take root.
Large fires were another threat to the ancient trees in The Lost 40 as part of the natural cycle of forests before European settlement and forest management. Today, signs of fire survival can be seen on many of the large tree trunks.
And while nature lovers walking through The Lost 40 will find the virgin forests priceless, old wood, with its tight grain, can be as much as ten times more valuable than new wood.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Duluth: U.S. Hwy 2 to Grand Rapids. Continue on Minnesota Hwy 38, 28 miles north to Marcell, turn left on Minnesota 286 and travel west 5 miles to Talmoon. Then go right on Minnesota 6 north, 10.5 miles to Itasca County Road 14. Turn left (west) on County Road 14 and go 10 miles to County Road 29, turn right and go 6 miles to County Road 26 north. Signs will guide you from there.